What is International Day of Women and Girls in Science?
International Day of Women and Girls in Science is held annually on 11th February and recognises the critical role that women and girls play in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The day also calls for action to remove all barriers holding women and girls back, as currently just 30% of researchers worldwide are women and only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM related fields of study are women.*
Although there is more to be done to encourage women and girls into careers in STEM, we have some fantastic female scientists here in Australia who deserve to be recognised – not only for their scientific achievements but for what they are doing behind the scenes, such as the International Women in Multiple Sclerosis (iWiMS) network.
What is the International Women in Multiple Sclerosis (iWiMS) network?
iWiMS is an international group of female neurologists, clinicians, allied health professionals and researchers specialising in MS which was formed to advocate for greater representation of women at all levels of professional leadership in MS, from clinical trials to editorial boards to academic departments. It also advocates for diversity and equality in the care of people with MS.
What are some of the gender imbalances that have been faced and how have these been addressed?
With close to 400 members spread over 67 countries, iWiMS aims to address the gender disparity in the field of MS research. An example of that gender imbalance is highlighted in a letter written to the Annals of Neurology where researchers from the University of Cambridge analysed the authorship of published phase 3 clinical trials for drug treatments for MS – of 195 authors for 26 clinical trials from 1993 to 2016, 150 (77%) were male and 45 (23%) were female. Members of iWiMS responded to this letter and provided recommendations on how to combat this, which can be viewed here.
Gender disparity in the STEM fields is also reflected in mainstream media. The 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that men outweighed women by 7 to 1 when it came to onscreen characters in a STEM career.
One way that iWiMS has addressed gender disparity is by developing a mentorship program for its members. This involves building a two-way relationship between a senior and junior researcher or clinician, where support is given and received. While this alone may not be enough for women to achieve their career aims, it can provide a way for like-minded women with an interest in MS to support each other, allowing them to become the best scientists and clinicians possible.
Our Head of Research, Dr Julia Morahan, is a member of iWiMS and many MS Research Australia funded women researchers and clinicians are also part of this group.
Find out more on the iWiMS website: iwims.world
Watch how our women researchers got into the field of MS research in this video.